Crosswalks can make crossing risky

Is it just me or is it getting risky to cross the street?

A couple of years ago we heard a lot of complaints after the Sweet Home Police Department conducted a sting operation to crack down on drivers who failed to obey the law governing pedestrians crossing the streets on crosswalks.

I heard a lot of phrases like “unfair” and “they should be out busting meth addicts,” or “don’t they have anything better to do?”

Problem is, drivers who ignore crosswalk laws make things a little dicey for the people trying to walk across the street. And a lot of drivers seem to be ignoring the law. Since our office is located on Main Street, between 13th Avenue and Figaro’s Pizza, we get lots of opportunities to either apply the law ourselves or watch others try.

I say “try” because it’s risky business trying to cross Main Street these days. Recently, I had to cross the street to get to the Shell station across from The New Era. Both going and coming, I had four or five vehicles whiz by when I was either standing on the curb or actually had my foot on the roadway.

Just to refresh our memories, according to Oregon law (ORS 811.360), drivers must stop and remain stopped for pedestrians in crosswalks until they have cleared the driver’s lane and the adjacent lane.

Every intersection is considered a crosswalk, marked or not, under the law. When a vehicle is turning, drivers must stop and remain stopped for pedestrians until they have cleared the lane into which the driver is turning, plus at least six feet of the adjacent lane if it is an intersection with a signal, or the entire adjacent lane where there is no signal. If you get busted for failing to stop and remain stopped for a pedestrian, it’s a Class B traffic violation, good for a $242 fine.

OK, all that’s pretty technical and not all of us are as good as others at guesstimating how far that six feet is. Bottom line, if someone is crossing Main or Long Street, you have to wait until they’re either on the sidewalk or are more than a lane away from the one you’re in before you can go. If you have questions, play it safe: Wait until the pedestrian clears not only the lane you want to travel in but the one next to it.

To be honest, I’ve never been a big fan of the Oregon crosswalk law, which was passed in 2006. I think it’s a dangerous law because the way it works now, it gives you, as a pedestrian, priority that is only in the letter of the law.

On a practical level, you, the pedestrian, either have to wait until the driver comes to a complete stop (which takes more time than it would to just let them go by) or you simply have to trust that the driver is going to follow the law when you begin to use a crosswalk. If you have faith in them and they turn out to be less law-abiding than you expect – well, it could be curtains.

When I was a kid, I lived in Japan, where they have crosswalks and where traffic is well-regulated compared to, say, the Philippines.

In Japan, at least when I was a kid, you had to raise your hand when you crossed on a crosswalk, which made it clear to drivers what your intensions were.

Part of the problem with the Oregon law is that, as a driver, you’re sometimes not sure what a pedestrian on a corner is planning to do. This happens a lot across from the Sweet Home Post Office, where pedestrians stand on the corners of Long Street and 13th Avenue and you sometimes can’t tell whether they’re planning to cross Long or 13th.

I almost bumped a high school kid one day as I was turning onto Long Street from one of the avenues and he was suddenly right there in front of me. Still not sure exactly what happened with that one, but I would have been at fault big-time if I hadn’t slammed on the brakes.

Granted, the Oregon law says that safety is the ultimate concern and that pedestrians need to exercise common sense, but let’s face it: The law really creates a game of chicken when drivers don’t comply.

Those are the drivers who basically ignore the law and rip on by as you try to cross. I, for one, don’t like to wait to see what the driver is going to do, but at the same time I’m not eager to mix it up with a three-quarter ton pickup or a Suburban whose driver is focused on his or her cellphone.

(I have to admit, too, that as a driver I, too, have come too close to pedestrians on crosswalks and in at least one case I was using my phone. I’m not pointing the finger at anybody in particular here, folks. We know who we are.)

I’m not advocating this for everyone, but there is the option of not using crossswalks, period. If I cross at some other section of the street, one thing is sure: I have no legal right of way. Sure, I may have to wait a little longer for traffic to clear enough for me to cross safely, but at least I know exactly how things stand.

I occasionally try it where the crosswalk is a long way down the street. But even that doesn’t work. I stand there, waiting for traffic to whiz by (which drivers have a right to do and should be doing) and they gently brake to a stop to allow me to pass. I wave them on, they wave back.

Like I say, it’s a game of chance, this crosswalk law. But it’s still the law.

The last time police did a crosswalk sting, it was because the police chief watched a woman trying to cross Main Street as drivers repeatedly violated the law. The sting was painful but it did make a lot of us more careful.

Point is, we need to stay that way.